Editing Dynamics in Wiki Articles

Editing dynamics in wiki articles refers to the changing concepts in message, structure or wording to reflect a writer’s rhetorical purpose. This could imply a previous writer’s bias or factual inaccuracy that would be rewritten or removed based on the editor’s preferences. Possible reasons for editing include political and religious agenda, vandalism, ease of access and organization, or genuine desire for community contribution toward accuracy. There is normally considerable discussion between readers/editors over perceptions of inaccuracy on large wiki sites like Wikipedia , and audiences’ views are thus reflected on what is written.

Rhetorical Purpose in Wiki

Editing is typically used rhetorically through a writer's views on how a fact should be demonstrated to the audience. This is shaped through cultural context, experience, and beliefs, which in turn are shaped by broader factors in their life. In digital writing, writers use various digital media (forum posts, blogs, wikis) to express views. In wiki, the goal specifically is to collaborate to effectively produce information that expresses accurately the message that they desire (factual or otherwise). An audience interpretation on what is written depends on their Media Ideologies and their experiences. In wikis, this can translate to changing text on pages to reflect their ideologies (media-based or otherwise, as seen below) structurally or content-wise.
(include something about ethos suggestion)

Political Bias

The prevalence in editing rhetorically to modify wording or remove sections becomes evident in political articles like Bill Clinton’s, likely because he is a public figure with much controversy and opinion relating to his history and background. A result of writing in a digital community like a wiki is the creation of friction between varying opinions (in terms of current research in scientific or historical articles, political views and propaganda in political articles and biographies, merging beliefs, opinions and facts in religious articles, etc.), and also between those whose goal is the maintenance, accurate representation and tending of encyclopedic knowledge in the most accurate way.
One example of a biased change made in the course of the article’s life involved statements about the economy in Clinton’s presidency. Originally, the author of the “Bill Clinton” article did not mention the economy under Clinton or his election platform, its length indicating the lack of contributable knowledge on the author’s part. The first mention of the economy in Clinton’s term as president is this:

“Clinton won the 1992 election largely on a platform focussing [sic] on domestic issues, notably the economic recession of the pre-election period - using the line "It's the economy, stupid!" in his campaigning. Throughout the 1990's, Clinton presided over continuous economic expansion, reductions in unemployment, and growing wealth through the massive rise in the share market. Clinton's role in promoting this prosperity is a matter of considerable debate: some substantial credit can be apportioned to groups such as the Congress and Federal Reserve head Alan Greenspan, as well as the congruence of technological and global economic conditions which had little to do with Clinton.” [1]

Though the claim itself is unsubstantiated and lacks citation (a common trait among wiki articles for disputable facts), the effect is an incomplete look at the economy in Clinton’s presidency (though a counter-argument is also briefly mentioned). This gives the audience a skewed and opinionated view of the issue with no substance to back it up, thus clashing with the explicit goals of the wiki. Later, a change () is made to the structure, with a sub-section titled “The economy during the Clinton administration”, which states,

“Following the fiscal prudence of president George H. W. Bush and heeding the advice of Alan Greenspan, Clinton pursued a balanced budget and made attempts to keep inflation in check. Throughout the 1990s, Clinton presided over continuous economic expansion (which, according to the Office of Management and Budget, began in April 1991), reductions in unemployment, and growing wealth through a massive rise in the stock market. Clinton's role in promoting this prosperity is a matter of considerable debate: some substantial credit can be apportioned to groups such as the Congress and Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan, whom Clinton renominated, as well as the congruence of technological and global economic conditions which had little to do with Clinton. In addition to these factors, some Clinton supporters also credit the reduction in the deficit, as well as Clinton's tax policies. By 2000, long-term rates had dropped to 7.6%, falling closer in line with short-term rates.” [2]

The wording here appears to indicate the opposite view as the one above while still retaining part of the previous text. The word “prudence” is mentioned when describing the fiscal policy of his predecessor (who happens to be of the opposing party), and the mention of the stock market “falling closer in line with short-term rates” gives the opposite effect of the first quote. The result is an audience perspective which is at least partially subjective on the side of Clinton’s opposition, with one mentioned resource (not cited) and no definite ideas regarding the economy (save that it rose and fell to some degree under Clinton).
Most recently (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Clinton), there have been more statements about economic conditions under and before Clinton, but to a lesser substantive degree overall. In the introduction, it is stated (but not cited) that Clinton was president for the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history. This claim is cited thrice later in the second statement of this claim, along with the total budget surpluses that the Budget Office reported in three later years of his presidency. Later, it is mentioned that he “transformed” Arkansas’ economy (not cited), oversaw a boom in the U.S. economy (not cited), and the U.S. had a projected federal surplus “for the first time since 1969” (cited). The overall impression that a reader gets rhetorically from the recent revision is that Clinton improved the economy in all offices of any consequence that he ever held, it was only Clinton/it was his oversight that the positive result came about, and that this is fact (though the claims are often not cited, and seldom explained in any meaningful manner). The appearance seems to be that it is fact without mentioning how it was done or where the reader can find more information/where the information came from (for instance, the lack of what Congress was doing at the time is suspect in and of itself in terms of policies enacted, their role, etc.).


Political or other types of bias do not necessarily conflict with goals of collaborative wiki efforts. An example of this is the conservative wiki, Conservapedia, which aims to provide "a conservative, family-friendly Wiki encyclopedia" [4] that seeks to counter a perceived liberal bias in Wikipedia writing. There still exists discussion regarding facts/views that are accurate apropos of the explicit goal of the site, and retains wiki structure. The audience therefore gets the impression that although it isn't necessarily factual information that is received (from Wikipedia, as Conservapedia makes explicit, or from Conservapedia itself), there exists a community which seeks to provide and maintain a type of information or view that is in-demand by some audience. This example shows that as long as a rhetorical purpose exists,

Ease of Access

Contributions via editing can also promote ease of access to the information in an article. This can range from section organization to deleting material to adding new media elements (tables, images, etc). Originally, old Wikipedia articles [5], for instance, were composed simply of a short biographical information section which included things like (in the example above) the years in which began and ended his presidency and some occurrences which his presidency presided over, a table of contents followed by a list of his activities as president summarized in short, discrete statements (i.e. “Creation of the Americorps volunteer program”, “Minimum Wage increase”, etc.), and a timeline. This was simply a short, unsubstantial page with no table, the goal of which was to simply describe the president without much detail or effort. The next relevant layout revision [3] added a descriptive “wiki” table, in which was a list of details of Clinton’s life and presidency, including his numerical order in the total number of presidents, whom he followed and succeeded as president, date of birth, etc., without changing the remaining organization of the page. This table added the ability of the audience to glance cursorily at most simple information that a reader would want (say, in writing a paper about Clinton, referencing basic facts) without searching in body of text. Next, a large picture of the official presidential portrait was added to the table. The result of this puts a picture to the face of the man whom readers may not have previously seen, gives weight to the validity Wikipedia as an encyclopedia by providing visual information about the article topic, and portrays the man in his official capacity as president, where most readers would recognize or place him (take for an example to the contrary an unflattering picture of him earlier or later in life, and it is evident that this is the case).

The most recent (as of 15 December 2011) edition [6] retains the table, albeit with much more detail. The new table includes not only more details on his presidency (signature, website, full name, new photograph replacing the portrait), but also lists personal details, like his website, children, alma mater, religion, as well as information from his gubernatorial and attorney general terms. The result of this is that not only the cursory capability of the reader is magnified and expanded, but information not otherwise included in the article is added (the acting governor when Clinton was attorney general, lieutenant governor, etc.). This also contributes to the idea that Wikipedia is a reliable, unbiased, factual source for encyclopedic knowledge, over which previously there had been raised significant question [7].